(5 of 5)
Will Walmart Be the New Post Office?
While some post-office services are migrating to small general stores, many may go into big-box locations of national chains like Costco and Office Depot. Some of these stores will have P.O. boxes, and they'll all sell stamps and allow people to mail packages. Many will even be open later than a traditional post office.
"They really like to make the point that you can buy stamps in 100,000 places like Walmart, but that's really not all the post office entails," says Kalish. "The reason they're doing this is so they can say, 'Hey, look, in your community we just saved money.' But it's just devaluing that community."
Those who are trying to save the USPS often argue that village post offices like the one in Malone are being incorrectly billed as direct replacements for traditional post offices. "They're designed to be as bare-bones as possible," Kalish says. "You can't request a [return] receipt. You can't weigh a package. You have to send it priority. You have to send it in this type of box. It's just not a sufficient replacement."
The services may be reduced, but the real issue is one of cultural loss: the colonial Franklin post office in Philly, post offices designed by Franklin D. Roosevelt that have intricate New Deal murals, the first post office built in the South after the Civil War.
In the end, the debate about the USPS is simple: it's about the privatization of a service that is supposed to be universal. But universal access doesn't exactly sync with the market's guiding hand. That's why UPS and FedEx don't ship everywhere. It's just not profitable. So where do they turn for last-mile delivery? To the Postal Service. Those private mail carriers are two of the USPS's biggest customers.
Meanwhile, as post offices close, Washington grapples with the larger financial problems of the nation and communities protest, Kalish is on the road. "It's a race against the clock," he says. In between taking classes and adjusting to his new life as a grad student, he's out taking pictures, making notes, creating a record. "This weekend I visited another 119 post offices, including 32 on the hit list," he wrote in an e-mail in October. "Four days, 1,110 miles, 45 hours on the road."
And Kalish's blue-and-white post office sign? It now sits in a postal museum in Ohio.